The Seventeenth International Conference on Patristic Studies was hosted in Oxford in August 2015. Our research group presented the Clerical Exile project in the afternoon workshops on three consecutive days in the Examination School. Our workshop presenters (Jennifer Barry, Jakob Engberg, Eric Fournier, Uta Heil, Julia Hillner, Harry Mawdsley, Hiltrud Merten, Dirk Rohmann, Jörg Ulrich, Margarita Vallejo) arrived from five countries (Denmark, Germany, Austria, the USA and the UK – this is all in alphabetical order). Workshop 1 focused on methodological approaches, while workshop 2 and 3 concentrated on specific topics in a chronological order.
Primarily attended by Theologians, the Oxford Patristics conference is huge compared to similar events for Historians or Classicists. This surely has to do with the fact that Patristics and late antique studies in general are pertinent to a range of academic disciplines. It may also show that Patristic Studies are comparatively well funded. More than seven percent of contributors reportedly arrived from Germany (this statistical information reportedly came from a publishing house that was represented at the conference).
Given the number of workshops and short communications presented at the conference, it inevitably was difficult to work through the schedule. The conference program was also structured according to location rather than time, and workshops were listed separately. It is obvious that any conference of this size poses significant challenges for its organisation. Some of the talks seem to have been cancelled on short notice, but again I found that the application process, the range and arrangements of topics was open, transparent and covering a diversity of topics and presenters. The conference locations were well chosen and provided a suitable atmosphere for this event.
While I for one, primarily as a classicist and historian, found some of the topics presented of great interest, I also felt that other topics were of much greater interest to an audience with a specifically theological education. This made it somewhat difficult for me to navigate through the panels. Nevertheless, it is clear that the coming together of so many scholars led to many illuminating chats during and outside conference hours and it also gave the opportunity to meet again several scholars whom I have last met somewhere else in the UK or overseas.